My favourite current-generation RPG so far is The Witcher, and I'm really looking forward to the sequel.
Unfortunately, Geralt's sexual exploits got rather more attention than the rest of the game. It's not really the part I'm most interested in. But I'm getting it out of the way first with this post, since it seems to come up whenever this game is discussed.
Geralt is infertile and immune to disease, but his promiscuity remains potentially quite emotionally reckless. And I will admit it's pretty tacky to reduce sexual intimacy to a series of collectable playing cards. It was widely labelled as yet another game trying to call itself mature, while including sex in a gratuitous, sexist, and immature way. I have a slightly different take on this.
I don't think casual sex is particularly terrible or sexist in itself -- provided everyone is adult, consenting, honest, and engaging in safe behaviours, of course. It is important to note that women in The Witcher are not mindless or passive in the whole affair. It's not quite as simple as one man jumping into bed with every woman he meets. The game is staying true to what is a morally grey world with no real innocents. Few people, regardless of gender, are going to come off looking good in that world. The protagonist is a product of a society full of corrupt politics, sexism, and racism against non-humans. He is not designed to be completely likeable, and participating in his story does not require me to condone everything he does.
Does the card collecting mini-game risk sending the message that women are nothing but sexual conquests? Maybe, but if so the reactions I've seen online certainly were not happy to play along. Most people saw it as childish and misogynistic... and I personally think that was the intended reaction. If it made you uncomfortable maybe that's a good thing.
Our Witcher, for all his bravery and combat skill, is seriously lacking when it comes to emotional development. When faced with relationships beyond the physical -- the possibility of love, family and commitment -- he doesn't handle it well. He doesn't see himself as capable of those emotions, or he simply doesn't consider it compatible with his violent, lone-wolf lifestyle.
When he can't be flippant about sex Geralt suddenly becomes rather lost, and is a pitiable character in this context. I found that an interesting situation to contemplate, and it's one where the player can clearly separate themselves from the character they are controlling. Put simply, he makes some bad choices that we can avoid.
Speaking as someone who identifies as polyamorous I do think it's unfortunate you are more likely to encounter an orgy in a game than a multiple-relationship situation. It's possible to handle multiple partners in a responsible way without falling back on the old standard of monogamous and committed = good, every other sexual lifestyle = bad. There are other ways to be responsible about sex and relationships, though there is currently a serious lack of good examples from games and other fictional spaces. Not to mention a scarcity of good real-life role-models.
Geralt is certainly no role-model, and his emotional flaws are highly visible. But, coming from my own non-puritanical point of view, it was interesting to consider where exactly he goes wrong.
The interviews I've seen for The Witcher 2 suggest the game will continue to include Geralt's womanising aspects, but the collectable cards are disappearing.
From The Witcher Vault:
We definitely retain the 'womanizing' part. After all, Sapkowski himself created Geralt this way, and there's a lot of "that stuff" in the books. But even though we plan to retain sexuality, a lot has changed regarding the presentation. For one, we completely forgo the card collecting aspect. No more sex for roses or gloves. We are more interested in a cinematic type of approach here, less of 'another feather in the cap' and more of a relationship/emotionally warranted displays of affection. Possibly quite like in some of the modern games, like "Heavy Rain" – we want to make it so that the plot and characters' personalities logically conclude in them being together. This will definitely be closer to an "R-rated movie" than a card-collecting game. After all, we're not making the game for the hormone-driven 14 year-olds, but for mature players.
I'm not sure if Heavy Rain was the most appropriate game to refer to here. But this does suggest some intent for the sexual aspects to mature a little. I suspect there will still be a lot of complaints, but I at least will be interested to see how they handle it this time around.